February 23, 2010
kirby margottenenbaum
Kirby Mood Board (source)


In the wider world, the diagram is a two-dimensional image that is used to explain complicated or abstract ideas. This results in the ubiquitous flow chart, the subway map, the depiction of the veins beneath our skin. In all of these examples, the diagram is secondary to some primary system. In architecture, however, the relationship between the diagram and the diagrammed is often reversed (at the beginning of the design process, the primary system does not yet exist). Architects, being intelligent creatures, realized that the very diagrams that were useful in describing their complex spatial projects, could be reverse engineered: by determining the most efficient diagram first, and then folding the building into it. Entire firms rely on this process, and it is critically well received—perhaps because the buildings which are conceived as diagrams are so easily understood. The danger lies in accepting that easily understood architecture makes for good architecture. In a field that has always had one foot planted firmly in the arts, and the other in the sciences, diagrams tip the scales further towards the scientific (though at times the diagrams themselves can be beautiful). If we are to balance the scales, perhaps an equal emphasis should be placed on whimsy: for every diagram, an image depicting mood or atmosphere.


E. Sean Bailey


Margot Tenenbaum’s Room, Eric Chase Anderson (source)


Diagrams are a device that many designers have come to utilize to organize quantitative information related to a site or program. This information is then used in the service of shaping a spatial proposal, as famously demonstrated by OMA’s Seattle Public Library. While highly rationalized diagrams can provide useful practical information for organizing a project, they tend to exclude information that is open for interpretation. Currently, diagrams that show qualitative information only make rare appearances. Perhaps architects can adopt the methods applied to the diagrams of Margot Tenenbaum’s room, by Eric Chase Anderson, which were used to guide the production designers on the set of The Royal Tenenbaums. By referencing numerous objects, a subjective spatial experience is created based on personal associations.


Erandi de Silva




One Response to “DIAGRAM”

  • E. Sean Bailey says:


    I generally tend to agree with you here. I also wonder whether there isn’t a version of the diagram that fulfills all of these roles: that serves to reinforce the qualitative aspects of a project through its very construction, and thus tilts the scales in both directions. I guess the danger of this logic is that you might literally end up with a building of a diagram.



    « previous post

    next post »